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Wolves in Writing

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Mon Aug 16, 2010 10:15 pm
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Merlin34 says...



Canis lupus... one of the most common animals in fiction. Their roots in stories go back thousands of years, from the vicious Fenrir of Norse mythology to the beautiful, mysterious creatures in Native American legends. They are still popular today. Unfortunately, that leads to people writing wolf stories without doing any research beforehand. The subject of wolves is a subject that is very near and dear to me, and I do not like to see them butchered (figuratively and literally). Here are a few problems I often see with wolves in fiction.

Wolves as Predators/Cheap Plot Devices:
Ah, the wolf attack in the forest, one of the only cliches that I think truly deserves to die in a hole (or be torn apart by wolves). It typically plays out like this: Heroes are walking in the forest. Heroes hear all the birds go silent (never mind that birds wouldn't be at all afraid of wolves, since they can just fly away). Suddenly, a pack of snarling wolves bursts through the trees! The hero, designated love interest, cowardly rogue, and gruff mercenary with a heart of gold fight against the wolves, but despite their best efforts, the designated comic relief is killed, to the dismay of the characters and the joy of the readers. Then for no apparent reason, the wolves flee.

That would never happen, ever (unless the wolves were being somehow controlled by magic, which most of the time they aren't). Wolves are freaked out by humans. We're tall, we look funny, we smell funny, and we sound funny. Wolves won't risk it. They'll stick to what they know, mainly deer, elk, and other ungulates, and the occasional rabbit or mouse as a snack (for one). The only time they would attack humans (and risk injury from this unknown animal) would be if they're starving, and if they're starving, they aren't going to flee just because one of them gets stabbed or decapitated. They aren't wimps. They're used to being injured in fights with prey, especially if moose or bison make up a significant portion of their diet. Deer hooves are sharp, and antlers aren't just for attracting mates (although wolves would tend to avoid bucks in their prime).

A possibility, I suppose, for a wolf attack, would be when a character squats to answer nature's call. The smell of poo is certainly "calling" a few things, and a squatting human appears much smaller and less threatening. Not a glamorous or epic way to die, but the wolves certainly don't care.

If you want a dangerous animal to attack your characters, go for something like a testosterone-charged bull moose during mating season. A 1500-pound mass of fur charging at you, antlers ready to gore, hooves ready to kick your brains out of your skull, is way scarier than Fido's big cousin.

Wolves as Characters:
Thankfully, wolves aren't always portrayed as vicious killers in fiction. You've also got the stories about wolf packs doing wolf stuff, like hunting deer, traveling, fighting with other packs (watch "In the Valley of the Wolves"), and losing their habitat to human encroachment.

Wolf packs are family groups of anywhere between 2 and 15, though packs as large as 20 and even 30 have been reported. They typically consist of an alpha male and alpha female (the only wolves in the pack that will breed) and their grown-up offspring. The key word is "family". Wolf packs are generally very hostile to unfamiliar wolves. By "very hostile", I mean, "they will tear the thing to shreds if it gets anywhere near them". Wolves that leave their pack will not join up with a new pack. They will hope that they find another lone wolf of the opposite sex, and then start their own pack.

When wolves hunt, they do it well. They approach their prey from downwind, so they can smell the prey, but the prey cannot smell them. If they are approaching a herd, they will single out one specific animal (usually an old, young, sick, or weak one), and concentrate on that one. Even so, they don't always catch their prey.

Lastly, the wolves need not have pack telepathy. Maybe add some words to their snaps and growls, but try to stay away from telepathy, or do something interesting with it. Maybe pack members can't communicate with each other directly, and must send everything through the alpha male of the pack, who would have absolutely no obligation to pass the message on as it was actually said. That might make for something interesting.

This article has also been posted on my personal website, the link to which is in my signature.
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Sun Aug 22, 2010 11:59 pm
Paranormal says...



o: You summed up my thoughts greatly! Bravo :o
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Sat Aug 28, 2010 2:17 am
Crimsona says...



Wow, I really couldn't agree with this more!
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Sat Dec 18, 2010 2:02 am
EloquentDragon says...



Wolves as Predators/Cheap Plot Devices:
Ah, the wolf attack in the forest, one of the only cliches that I think truly deserves to die in a hole (or be torn apart by wolves). It typically plays out like this: Heroes are walking in the forest. Heroes hear all the birds go silent (never mind that birds wouldn't be at all afraid of wolves, since they can just fly away). Suddenly, a pack of snarling wolves bursts through the trees! The hero, designated love interest, cowardly rogue, and gruff mercenary with a heart of gold fight against the wolves, but despite their best efforts, the designated comic relief is killed, to the dismay of the characters and the joy of the readers. Then for no apparent reason, the wolves flee.


I laughed so hard at this! In almost every cheesy lost-in-nature book out there, (or fantasy, for that matter,) has wolves in it, and it almost always goes like that. Why people, can't you get it straight? How about a cougar, or a bear, or an avalanche!
I guess if the story was set in the forests of Europe, however, it might be slightly difficult to pull that off. (But why not, if wolves can do all that stuff in the books, why not just have the characters get attacked by a polar bears, or a legion of penguins or something?)
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Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:49 am
Critical_Point says...



What about someone who is wounded and trapped? Ex: someone tied up and bleeding.




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Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:29 am
Merlin34 says...



I'd say that someone like that would be vulnerable to wolves, yes. They'd look like a wounded deer.
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Tue Mar 15, 2011 4:25 pm
Stori says...



Thank you very much, Merlin.